EDITORIAL | Glendale purchase pass is shortsighted

Public beach access: it’s been sand in the shoes of Island County commissioners for decades. It started as just a few grains, a handful of grumblers, but with steady growth the issue is now the regular topic of headlines, and that shoe just keeps filling up. The board does its best to pour it out, such as with the lawsuit over Wonn Road or the acceptance — though grudging — of Robinson Beach, but more sand always seems to take its place.

One of the big problems is that Island County has a hole in its shoe, or more specifically, the board does. Politics and differing values of commissioners over the years has led to a less-than-steady approach to the issue, sometimes resulting in community treasurers and at other times missed opportunities.

Nowhere is that more clear than the board’s decision earlier this month not to buy two properties in Glendale, which served as accesses to the water for generations. Republican Commissioners Jill Johnson and Kelly Emerson nixed the proposal, citing the cost of maintenance at a time when the county is struggling to maintain the property it has. Johnson scoffed that Island Beach Access, a citizen-composed advocacy group involved in the county’s legal battle over Wonn Road, has lots of money and should buy it themselves.

At a time when the county has devoted years and resources to reclaiming beach access from Bruce Montgomery, the Greenbank property owner at the center of the legal beef over Wonn Road, such comments toward a group dedicated to providing the public with parkland — a job usually reserved for government — is poor form and the decision to forego such property is a step in the wrong direction.

Yes, beachfront property is expensive. Yes, the county doesn’t have a lot of money. And yes, we can’t buy everything that comes along. But beaches are not some obscure empty field; they are the crust of a pie that is only getting smaller, and the never-ending tide of growth and development make each crumb priceless.

Prior boards have recognized this and fought long and unpopular battles to acquire properties such as Double Bluff, a public beach now so frequently used and beloved that not having it is almost inconceivable. Former longtime commissioner Mike Shelton, a Republican, was instrumental in that effort.

We live in tough economic times, when elected officials are forced to choose which priorities to fund and the choice is not always easy. But this topic keeps raising its ugly head for one simple reason — the public views beach access as more important than ever before. It’s time the board, regardless of its current political makeup, recognizes that this isn’t the agenda of impossible-to-please extremists but is a community priority.

Reconsider your decision, commissioners. It’s not too late to patch that shoe and secure a property the public can treasure for generations to come.

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